Housing Committee Discusses Lead Poisoning Prevention
With roughly 60 children being tested for elevated lead levels each year in Jamestown, the City Council Housing Committee is hoping to raise awareness for the issue so that local residents can take preventative measures against lead poisoning.
The City Council Housing Committee discussed the issue of lead poisoning during a committee meeting prior to Monday’s full work session when a county health official stressed the importance of actively pursuing lead poisoning prevention in the Jamestown community.
“What brought me here was just the nice write up in the paper about the concerns of housing in the city of Jamestown and just to remind the Housing Committee that lead really very much is a part of that when we’re talking about why housing needs to be improved in this community,” Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller from the Chautauqua County Health and Human services Department said.
Schmidtfrerick-Miller told City Council members that with roughly 60 children in Jamestown being tested for elevated lead levels each year, the city of Jamestown has an “excess” of 700 or 800 children currently in the Jamestown Public Schools District with “potential impacts” as a result of childhood lead exposure. Schmidtfrerick-Miller added that Jamestown has the “seventh highest zip code” for the number of children with lead poisoning outside of New York City in the state.
“It is a significant issue here and I’m just hoping that we can have attention on this topic, because it is a very important piece of housing and how we address and why we address housing issues,” she said.
Housing Committee Chairwoman Marie Carrubba, D-Ward IV, warned that whether a child receives lead poisoning through water pipes or through lead paint, the affects “continue on” and do not go away as they grow older. Carrubba said lead poisoning is an issue for children even as they transition into adulthood and is “very costly” to individual residents.
“It’s costly to the individual and the community,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “Their lifetime earnings may be limited, there is a higher incidence of involvement with the criminal justice system for people who are lead poisoned as children. There are a lot of community reasons for preventing lead poisoning, and it is preventable lower. Kids may do okay in school, but are they reaching their potential? And then there’s a whole bunch of kids that don’t do okay.”
Carrubba suggested that one way to prevent lead poisoning in Jamestown houses would be to consider a new product that can be used to “neutralize” lead paint. According to Carrubba, there is a new product that can be mixed into paint and painted over existing lead paint in houses to help neutralize the lead and prevent lead poisoning. While Carrubba said she did not know the price of the product, she suggested that it could be a cost-effective way of preventing lead poisoning through paint.
“Lead hazard control and reducing the risks for exposure doesn’t have to be terribly costly,” Schmidtfrerick-Miller said. “A lot of times it’s just identifying where those hazards are. Right now, we’re requiring that property owners strip wear surfaces or replace them, because that’s where almost all the exposure will come from, but other than those wear surfaces, it’s really stabilizing the surface, so a baseboard or something like that, probably just a good coat of a high-quality primer, something like that.”
While Schmidtfrerick-Miller acknowledged that eliminating lead poisoning hazards and removing lead from all of the homes in Jamestown can seem like an “almost impossible” and “overwhelming” task, she said it is something the city and the community need to start addressing. She said low-cost solutions can be used to prevent additional lead poisoning; however, she stressed the importance of determining where children are being exposed to lead poisoning.
One example of lead poisoning is water pipes inside certain houses in Jamestown, which Schmidtfrerick-Miller said can be difficult to identify due to the pipes being buried in the ground.
“New York State Health Department continues to test water for free, so if anybody ever had concerns about their drinking water and their tap water, they could have it tested,” she said. “The BPU does not have lead in it when it leaves the source, when it leaves BPU, but whether there’s lead in service lines that people may be exposed to, they can have that tested for free. It’s a pretty easy process.”
Although determining the source of lead poisoning from water pipes can be a difficult task, Schmidtfrerick-Miller said “almost every case” of childhood lead poisoning in Jamestown has been the result of exposure to lead paint.
While Chautauqua County has launched efforts to address lead poisoning issues, Schmidtfrerick-Miller believes it is up to individual cities to address prevention issues.
“It’s really housing policy,” she said, “which this is the Housing Committee that can start to make change toward some kind of preventative measures.”
Carrubba mentioned one of the problems with identifying lead exposure in Jamestown is that families move from one place to another so frequently in Jamestown that it is difficult for lead poisoning to be traced to its original source. However, Schmidtfrerick-Miller said families are often moving from one place of lead exposure to another place where they are “likely being exposed.” She said the community needs to “move away” from the model of using children as “lead detectors” and take measurable steps to prevent additional lead poisoning in the Jamestown community.
Schmidtfrerick-Miller said that in order to adequately address the issue of lead poisoning, collaboration between the city, the county, local schools, the state, families in the community and pediatricians will be necessary.
“Of the many issues facing people in this community and children in this community, this is a preventable one and relatively easy to prevent,” she said. “Not anything that would happen overnight, and certainly an expense to it, but compare trying to prevent lead poisoning with trying to prevent mental health issues or trying to prevent poverty as a whole or something like that, those are just so much more complex,” she said. “In the scope of this kind of work, this is easy. We know what works.”